Hunts Point kids plant 50 saplings

Knicks City Dancer Cece Segarra, fourth graders Oscar Carrasco and Jeannae Brown, and Green Apple Corps member Colin Afflick planted saplings in Hunts Point on April 7. Photo by Daniel Beekman

Trees reduce air, water and noise pollution. Trees cool the atmosphere. Trees are beautiful. Hunts Point suffers from air, water and noise pollution. Hunts Point fries during the summer. Hunts Point is not a picturesque neighborhood.

In other words, Hunts Point needs trees. On Tuesday, April 7, children from the neighborhood planted 50 saplings at the Hunts Point Recreation Center, off Lafayette Avenue. Many children in Hunts Point suffer from asthma.

“Trees make oxygen,” said Jeannae Brown, 9. “Oxygen is what we breathe.”

The tree planting was a graduation of sorts for Brown and other Acorns to Oaks participants. Acorns to Oaks is a Parks Department after-school program. Launched in October 2008 at five rec centers, including Hunts Point, it’s all about trees.

Brown and her peers, aged 6-13, learned how to plant and cultivate, weed, aerate and mulch. They learned to identify different trees and perform tree “check-ups.”

The city has planted 170,000 trees since 2006; Mayor Michael Bloomberg wants to reach one million by 2030. But the trees will wither and die if they aren’t cared for.

“Street trees are especially vulnerable,” said Sarah Aucoin, director of the city’s Urban Park Rangers. “We are asking these children to become tree stewards.”

When street trees are used to post signs, they fall sick. When street trees are used to lock bikes, they fall sick.

“Some people let their dogs go to the bathroom in the tree pits,” Aucoin said. “Urine can affect the pH of the soil. There are so many trees in the city. The Parks Department can’t monitor all of them. If a street tree is sick, we need to know.”

Hunts Point is a Tree for Public Health Neighborhood, targeted for extra plantings because it has fewer trees than other neighborhoods and higher rates of child hospitalization for asthma. In 2002, there were only 1,020 trees in Hunts Point.

“Planting one million trees will be a challenge,” Parks deputy commissioner Liam Kavanaugh said. “We need to get kids involved.”

Trees remove particulate matter from the atmosphere, particulate matter that can trigger asthma. Brown and her peers nursed the 50 saplings from acorns.

“It was a great program,” said Isaiah Ford, after-school coordinator at the Hunts Point Rec Center. “The kids got so excited for the rangers to come.”

A retired New York Knicks basketball player, Charles Smith, and Knicks City Dancers attended the tree planting. Acorns to Oaks will continue at five different rec centers in the fall.

Travis Evans, 12, learned that trees offer shade.

“My favorite tree is the Christmas tree,” Evans said.

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